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Shell Wins U.S. Approval of Alaskan Oil Exploration Plan

Royal Dutch Shell Plc won conditional U.S. approval for its exploration plan in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea, a step toward tapping oil leases bought in 2005 and 2007 in which it has invested more than $3.5 billion.

The Hague-based company may begin exploring in July 2012 if it gets permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said today in an e-mailed statement.

“We base our decisions regarding energy exploration and development in the Arctic on the best scientific information available,” Director Michael Bromwich said in an e-mail. “We will closely review and monitor Shell’s proposed activities” under the plan to ensure that operations are “conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner.”

Shell’s pursuit of oil in Alaska’s icy waters has been portrayed by industry and environmentalists as a first test for U.S. offshore drilling regulators beyond the Gulf of Mexico, where exploration has resumed under restrictions set after BP Plc’s spill last year.

The company said it’s ready to respond to any spill in the remote Arctic region, home to rare animal species such as polar bears and beluga whales.

The approval “is welcome news,” Shell spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh said in an e-mail. “We look forward to continued progress as we pursue the permits necessary to drill.”

-- Editors: Judy Pasternak, Steve Geimann

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